Using a lifetime of data

3 October 2002

In each phase of a plant's life cycle a set of engineering data becomes history. Using IT to track it and retrieve it where necessary pays dividends. By Paul Daynes

The quality of design information is paramount for nuclear engineering companies. Like other companies operating in competitive markets, plant owners and operators, and engineering and construction companies are looking for ways to commission plant earlier, and reducing the cost of design and operation. But none of the solutions can compromise safety.

Using good IT systems can help maintaining information quality, but to get maximum benefit they must be incorporated as early as possible. Getting data validated in the early stages of a project underpins good design, good project management and quality engineering data, and can significantly assist the effectiveness of downstream operations.

In the pre-operation phase, IT systems improve project design efficiency and delivery by: improving design productivity and quality; eliminating field rework; automating deliverables to meet clients' requirements; enabling projects to be operated globally; and re-using design data over time.

Industry is under constant pressure to compress timescales and distribute work on a global basis. Companies with information from different sources used at offices around the world can find it necessary to coordinate design in separate areas. Even simply passing data around can introduce errors, but this involves more than merely copying files around file systems. It involves project synchronisation and concurrent execution: and that requires sophisticated information technology and careful modelling techniques.

In the startup and operation phases companies are faced with many information sources, which are often of variable quality. They can range from manufacturers' databases on spare parts to engineering reports. They need to overcome the common problems of: high costs associated with business re-engineering; fragmented engineering workflows; disparate non-integrated IT systems and legacy data; and project handover of as-built data to the client.

The choice of IT tool is important in securing the job, but it really comes into its own in extremely costly projects, by reducing the number of the errors and reworkings, and by supporting true concurrent engineering.

Validating data early has benefits throughout the construction and operation phases. As the project progresses, information subsets from previous phases remain in regular use. The full data can be added to a central asset repository of engineering data. This asset repository manages the identifiers and links of all data and information objects including asset breakdown, classification structures and document links. The data of known quality is then stored to enable controlled maintenance of information through the operational phase of the life cycle.

All information from the asset register is presented through a common portal, which effectively acts as a browser. It combines with the user's desktop environment to provide collaboration applications appropriate to the user's workspace. Since information is fully referenced, users can access, view and compare all their engineering objects, such as data documents, 2D drawings and 3D models, in a fully indexed way.

In the Aveva approach, from the outset, in the discrete engineering phases of a project, intelligent piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&ID) can be created with the flexibility of offline operation. This makes possible a high rate of productivity and change. Alternatively, or subsequently, the P&ID can be online to the engineering workbench and adhere rigidly to engineering charge control. When P&ID design is progressed through detailed engineering or 3D design, full engineering change control is enforced for all objects, with full status and differencing between engineering items and the 3D model. Providing a single, consistent source of engineering data streamlines operations and reduces costs throughout the life cycle of the plant.

The basis of the three core technologies that Aveva (formerly known as Cadcentre) has adopted are covered under one brand: Vantage, which offers solutions in the areas of enterprise integration, plant engineering, plant design, and project resource management (see panel).

Plant design

The Plant Design Management System suite is an integrated design and visualisation environment, based on 3D design practices. It uses low bandwidth technology to synchronise changes between locations, giving distributed users simultaneous access to data, thereby enabling improved design productivity and elimination of errors. Aveva believes this system can reduce design cycle time by 15-20%, improving productivity through management control, distributed working, knowledge capture and re-use. It also claims that there is less than 1% site rework, and there is a potential 1-2% savings in overall project costs, derived from improved design quality through consistent, accurate deliverables and reduced material wastage.

Part of the plant design protocol is to put into 3D the physical layout of the plant. At the back end, visualisation tools are used to animate construction and decommissioning sequences. This is predicated upon having the as-built details, rather than simply relying on the as-designed plans. To support this addition of as-built information there are essentially two types of technologies used in industry today.

Laser technology uses a so-called "cloud of points"approach. Measurements made using lasers precisely locate millions of points: like a printed image the dots provide a very clear picture of the 3D space. The drawback is that computer algorithms are required to convert the data set to a 3D image and it does not give the engineering context.

Photogrammetry techniques, in some versions, provide a back overlay for a panoramic view. Two-dimensional images are in effect stitched together to make a 3D view in 2D. In this view, it is possible to tag items, such as valves, and identify clashes easily in conjunction with an intelligent 3D system, such as PDMS. The system can be used to evaluate evacuation routes, for example.

Photogrammetry also allows the operator to leverage information across the engineering spectrum, by looking at all information in the context of the items being investigated. Thus, for example, it is possible to look at all the equipment downstream of the item, and to determine the consequences of maintenance activities on the item. This provides management with a basis to determine optimal maintenance scheduling.

The Temelin plant in the Czech Republic used HazMap technologies (initially developed by University of London, now available from As-Built Solutions) to get photogrammetry data. This was determined by sending equipment into the hazardous zones to capture the as-built situation. The data and imagery was used to visually compare as-built and as-designed status, as well feeding back into the 3D design model for full or partial as-built representation.

When managing engineering data, it is important that the data be in context. With photogrammetry, plant historians and design data from the project execution phases provide a very powerful information source for more effective decision support and collaboration across disciplines.

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